Family photo of Laura and James Cobb holding their adopted daughter, Evelyn

Child Health

A NICU Baby Gives Hope to a Waiting Family

How a NICU team joined forces with social workers and an adoption agency to introduce a baby to her new family on Mother’s Day:


In April 2021, the sickest newborn in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital was born awaiting a family. She didn’t have a revolving door of visitors itching at the chance to hold her or anyone to make medical decisions for her. Her doctors didn’t know if the baby would survive her first week. 

Just two months later, that baby girl – Evelyn – was healthy, happy and at home with a new family. The NICU team joined forces with an adoption agency, a caring birth mom, and an adoptive family to help this baby heal in the hospital and to create a happily-ever-after for her beyond it.

This is a story about one of the happiest moms celebrating Mother’s Day this year, Laura Cobb, and the team who connected her to her daughter, Evelyn.

A Heartbreaking First Week

With no family available to make decisions for the sick newborn, the NICU doctors cared for baby Evelyn like they would any other, and charted the medical course for her based on the standard of care and best practices.

“We think about each baby in terms of, ‘If this was my child, what would I want this team to do?’” says Jessica Clarke-Pounder, M.D., a neonatologist at Levine Children’s Hospital. “We treat each baby how we would want our family members treated, with the same gravity to decision making that we would have with our own children.”

Evelyn faced multiple life-threatening challenges during her first few days. For one, she was born with an infection and was delivered by emergency C-section due to fetal distress which led to required resuscitation by the NICU team in the delivery room.  She was placed on therapeutic hypothermia protocol after delivery due to concern for brain injury.  The baby also had meconium aspiration, in which feces enters the lungs. Then, Evelyn developed pulmonary hypertension. Then, kidney failure. Evelyn’s body was essentially shutting down, and she required a heart/lung bypass machine – called ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – to keep her alive. Evelyn was so fragile that the pediatric surgical team performed the surgery to place her on the ECMO pump inside the NICU.

“Levine Children’s Hospital is the only center in this area that offers ECMO. If she was born anywhere else, she would’ve had to be transferred,” says Dr. Clarke-Pounder. “The pump saved her life.”

The NICU team offered the little girl more than decision making. The NICU team offered her love. Doctors and nurses, full of all faith backgrounds, prayed over this little girl to heal. They cuddled the baby every chance they could.

By the end of that first week, Evelyn stabilized and was healthy enough to come off the ECMO machine. Her birth mom chose to pursue adoption, and social workers and an adoption agency helped her find a forever family for her baby.

The Worst Day Becomes the Best Day

Mother’s Day used to be Laura Cobb’s most dreaded day of the year.

For seven years, Laura and her husband James tried to have a baby. They learned they couldn’t have biological children, and the adoption process was slow. Mother’s Day weekends were so painful that the couple turned off their phones and went on off-grid getaways to be alone. The Friday before Mother’s Day of 2021, however, Laura’s phone rang as she drove home from work. She decided to answer one last call before turning it off.

It was the adoption agency, who told Laura about a very sick baby in the NICU who needed a family. The baby was stable, but she could face developmental hurdles and possibly brain damage. The agency told Laura that she and her husband should talk and pray about it.

“My husband and I were like, ‘No, we've prayed enough! This is what we've been praying for! This is our daughter!’” Laura says, smiling and wiping tears at the memory. “We are her parents, that is it. And so, we met her the very next day.”

On the day before Mother’s Day, they met the 10-day-old baby. Evelyn wore the cutest pink outfit to meet her new parents. Laura later learned the outfit was a personal gift from someone who loved Evelyn, too: Dr. Clarke-Pounder.

“There are there lots of families that, for one reason or another, can't be in the NICU. Families can feel a lot of guilt over that, but there are moms and dads who have limited time off from work, or babies who get transferred here from far away,” Dr. Clarke-Pounder says.  “Every baby who’s there, especially ones who don't have families, we really take care of them as if they're our family.”

A Big Team Supports a Little Baby

Laura and James joined an already large group of people who were part of Team Evelyn. There were NICU doctors, nurse practitioners, pediatric surgeons, respiratory therapists, ECMO therapists, gastrointestinal specialists, speech therapists, social workers, and an adoption agency. People across many disciplines collaborated to create a seamless care plan to support this little girl.

While James needed to return to work, Laura came to the NICU daily to hold Evelyn, to sing to her, and to work with the therapists as they taught the little girl to take a bottle. 

“At first, I didn’t want to leave Evelyn because I didn’t want her to feel alone, but she wasn’t alone. She was so loved by the nurses and doctors, who were amazing. They were her family before we were,” Laura says. “And I felt taken care of by them just as much.”

About a month later, Evelyn learned how to take a bottle and she became strong enough to go home with the Cobbs. Before the family left the hospital together, the NICU team helped them make follow-up appointments with specialists and a pediatrician to help them transition to the next stage of their daughter’s care.

A Healthy Little Girl, a Grateful New Mom

Evelyn Cobb giggling in her strollerEvelyn just celebrated her first birthday. She returns for developmental appointments at a neonatal follow up office, which works with her pediatrician to make sure she’s developing appropriately. All signs point to a healthy little girl, developing on schedule.

Laura says that the past year has shown her a capacity to love beyond what she’s ever known: for Evelyn, for Evelyn’s birth mother who continues to be a loving presence in her daughter’s life and for the NICU doctors and nurses.

Now, Laura’s preparing to celebrate her second happy Mother’s Day. 

“Because Mother’s Day weekend is the weekend we met Evelyn, it’s our family weekend,” Laura says. “It’s not about me. It’s about Evelyn, and it’s about honoring her birth mom. I’ve never met someone as strong and courageous and faith-filled as her birth mom – she’s amazing.”

The Cobbs remain in touch with Dr. Clarke-Pounder, sending her photos and updates of the baby she guided through those first few scary weeks.

“It was really special to me to see Evelyn progress from being the sickest baby in the NICU to becoming a baby who went home with a loving family,” Dr. Clarke-Pounder says. “It is really special when families are so impacted that they choose to stay in contact with us, and it's really nice to see that our hard work has paid off.”

Laura kept the pink outfit that Dr. Clarke-Pounder gave Evelyn on the day the family met.

“One day I’m going to show Evelyn this outfit,” Laura says. “And I’m going to tell her, ‘This was from your doctor – she loved you before I even met you.’”

Learn more about neonatology at Levine Children’s Hospital, which has been named among the Best Children’s Hospitals by U.S News & World Report.